About Intuitive Living

This blog is about an empowered journey with breast cancer - treatment, use of complementary therapies and recovery to an active healthy life. Nearly two years down the track after having a breast cancer diagnosis, I have returned to full health feeling mentally, emotionally and physically stronger than ever. How did I spearhead my recovery? Through quick action; taking on forgiving people who had caused me hurt over the years; forgiving myself; a positive attitude; meditating each morning; tuning up my diet to ensure potentially cancer causing foods were removed and healing foods added; taking up yoga twice a week; walking regularly; acupuncture; lymphatic massage and sharing with friends. Letting them love me up. Removing stress, loving myself and being kind to me. This blog is my journey through the process and beyond.

The Weight Issue

Every time I open a magazine, particularly health magazines, or I get an update from some of the sites I subscribe to, their key message or articles are about how to lose weight.

How did we become so preoccupied with weight as a society?

It’s everywhere. Eat less of this, more of that. Don’t eat such and such, eat x every day.

Australian supermarkets have become like American supermarkets were 25 years ago. When food shopping whilst on a skiing holiday in the States back then, it was almost impossible to find basic foods that did not have something added or removed. All, supposedly, with the intention of making us healthier.

Since that time, America has become a nation of obese people, with 2 in 3 adults either overweight or obese (http://win.niddk.nih.gov/statistics – 2010). Australia is going the same way with 3 in 5 adults being overweight or obese (http://www.aihw.gov.au/overweight-and-obesity). We are potentially facing an obesity epidemic.

When searching the shelves in the supermarket, I really have to look for the unadulterated and non-modified standard foods, such as milk, cheese, yoghurt, breads, meats, etc.

We have developed a pre-occupation with fats. So many foods have the fat removed from them. But to make them palatable, they have sugar added. We need healthy fats and we don’t need added sugar. It’s best to eat sugar when it occurs naturally in foods.

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I consulted her again when I was diagnosed with early breast cancer 3 years ago, as I wanted to ensure that what I was eating was supporting my body to return to good health. I found her guidance enormously beneficial in assisting my road to recovery.

Post chemotherapy, I put on weight and was struggling to lose it, so I went to see Emma again. This time we looked at my overall lifestyle. I took on eating at least five vegetables a day and increasing my strength-building exercise. I also attended a workshop she was participating in at the Family Wellness Centre and was inspired by what Clinical Hypnotherapist and Master NLP Practitioner, Linda Funnell-Milner, had to say about attitude to food and how hypnotherapy can assist.

So I had a consultation with her and discovered that I had a deprivation mentality about food and felt guilty if I wasn’t eating for weight reduction. I was waiting until I was ravenous before eating and then eating too much. She did two trance sessions with me and suggested I try a new eating pattern:

1.    Eat when you are hungry
2.    Eat what you want to eat – (not what you think you should eat)
3.    Eat consciously, slowly, enjoy every mouthful
4.    Between each mouthful put your knife and fork down
5.    When you think you are full, stop eating

It is important to eat when you are between fairly hungry and full.

How will you know if you are hungry? If you feel a bit hungry, but aren’t sure, drink some water (or peppermint tea). If you are still hungry 15 minutes later, have something to eat. If you’re not hungry wait until you are.

I’ve been doing this for the last six months whilst following Emma’s tips on healthy eating. The results? My weight has stopped fluctuating. I have no guilt around food. I am enjoying everything I eat. Have a treat every now and then. I feel great and am told I look really good.

I have taken on accepting my body just the way it is – athletic with a little roundedness.

In the meantime I’ve started a new venture, The Vital You, healthy cooking workshops for wellness. Learn more about our philosophy, workshops and weekends.

Love your body

This week I had an epiphany. I was in my yoga class, moving gently from one position to another, listening to the teacher and imbibing the gentle music, my movements flowing. A thought entered my head, ‘I love this. I love what my body is doing. I love my body.’ I hadn’t had that thought for a long time.

MeditatingI’ve been reading books, having conversations, meditating and in the background has been a dissatisfaction with my body. Why you may ask? I didn’t like where my body went during and after chemotherapy nearly 3 years ago. It took a long time to heal. I developed mild lymphodaema in my left arm resulting in sleeves, drainage massage and taking a supplement over the last 2 years. My libido disappeared. I felt I had lost the me I knew.

Ever had that feeling or thought? ‘Where did the vital, energised, passionate me go?’ I’ve had it a few times in recent years.

This week I got that ‘I love my body, just how it is.’ It’s a fabulous body, because it’s mine and it looks after me every day. It enables me to do any exercise I want. It gives me the space to meditate every morning. It loves the healthy food I feed it and, if I indulge in eating something unhealthy, it tolerates it, but tells me to keep such indulgences to a minimum. It loves me when I look after it. So what was I doing not loving it?

What are you doing to love your body? Are you nourishing it with exercise? Are you feeding it with delicious fresh, natural, organic foods? Are you easing your mind when it starts to race, giving it a brief holiday to connect with what’s important to you?

Breathe croppedI get my epiphanies when I take time out of my day, whether it be momentary, taking time to breathe deeply, stop, listen, get present. Or for a little longer with a walk – without my phone or music – listening to nature, or with a 10-minute meditation or easing myself through a yoga class.

I get clarity in my time out – ideas, how to solve problems, what conversations I want to have with people. I love it. My body gives me all of this when I allow it to. As of today I have taken on loving my body moment by moment.

Are you loving your body? Are you interested in learning to love your body more and to get all the answers you need from it and your intuition?

The Vital You Weekends are perfect for connecting or reconnecting with YOU. Find out more about our 2-day retreats in Bundanoon.

Are you time poor? Why not start with a half-day workshop in Sydney on Fermenting, Happy Hormones or Feed Your Skin.

Completely Well

I’m well, completely well. I had my second anniversary appointment with my oncologist in mid-November and came away with a good report. ‘You’re clear”, she said. “What are you doing to keep yourself that way.” “Exercising regularly – walking most days, doing Pilates twice a week, and yoga at least once a week. I’m also eating healthily, meditating when I can and staying calm.”

I did tell her that I am osteopeonic. What’s that, you may ask? It’s where bone mineral density (BMD) is lower than normal peak BMD, but not low enough to be classified as osteoporosis. To keep from becoming osteoporotic, I have increased my strength and balance training and am taking Vitamin D, Vitamin K and calcium daily. All prescribed by my integrative doctor. I’ll need to take the supplements until I have another bone density test in 12 months time.

osteopenia-and-osteoporosis-the-difference

As time goes by I have almost forgotten that I had a brush with cancer. Up until the two-year anniversary of completing chemotherapy, I had joint pain in my feet and ankles, especially after sitting in the car or driving. That has now completely gone, even after a long trip. I get out of the car and can move freely again. Wonderful!

The only reminder now is ongoing mild lymphedema and that really isn’t bothering me too much. I have started to manage this so that it doesn’t interfere with my day. Sometimes I feel I am a walking beacon that I’ve had breast cancer. Even though I’m not embarrassed about it, I don’t want to advertise it every day and that’s certainly how I feel when wearing a compression sleeve with a short-sleeved top. I wear it when it works for me and manages my condition. I’ve found a fantastic website, Better Health Channel, established by the Victorian Government, which has excellent information on lymphoedema and fluid retention.

I’m now turning my mind to getting myself back into the business world with the aim of contributing something of what I’ve learnt to others. I’ve started a new business, called The Vital You, presenting a series of experiential cooking workshop weekends, which are designed to give vitality and keep people well.

In the process of setting up the workshops, I’m realising that looking after my health and wellbeing is a daily job.

It’s so easy to slip ‘off the wagon’ – to not meditate because we have people staying or we’re travelling or I get up too late and need to get on with my day. I can feel the affect of not meditating regularly. I’m not as present, centred or calm and I have a tendency to worry about things. Whilst I’m not a new year’s resolution person, I will be returning to my practice as I welcome 2015.

With all the partying and getting together that goes on in December, I’ve found it’s so easy to eat too much, have a regular ‘special treat’, drink alcohol each day, eat out often and to let go of some of the discipline I have had around healthy eating and limiting my alcohol intake. Actually there’ll definitely need to be a new year’s resolution this year!

Healthy Alcohol Consumption

community-salad-recipes-from-arthur-street-kitchenI feel the need to get back to challenging walking and a diet of salads and lots of vegetables. My body is demanding it and so is my mind. Here’s to a mindful, healthy new year with mornings of meditation, walking and yoga as well as a return to my beautiful kitchen to prepare some of the delicious healthy salads I’ve found in my new recipe book, Community, Salad Recipes from Arthur Street Kitchen. Yum!

Sharing What’s Inspired Me!

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Intuitive Living

What inspires me to blog is a desire to express myself and share with others what I’ve learnt and am learning. It’s also a desire to assist and support others. The sharing of information, experiences and ideas connects us.

Often I think I need to know exactly what I’m going to say before I write. This has been stopping me from blogging for the past few months. Now I know what I want to write about, but I don’t know what I want to say, so I’m letting my pen and the excellent books I’ve read lately do the talking. They’re:

Embracing the Warrior, An Essential Guide for Women by Dr Karen Coates and Vincent Perry;

Beat Cancer, The 10-step plan to help you overcome and prevent cancer (also subtitled How to Regain Control of Your Health and Your Llife) written by leading cancer experts, Prof. Mustafa Djamgoz…

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Sharing What’s Inspired Me!

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What inspires me to blog is a desire to express myself and share with others what I’ve learnt and am learning. It’s also a desire to assist and support others. The sharing of information, experiences and ideas connects us.

Often I think I need to know exactly what I’m going to say before I write. This has been stopping me from blogging for the past few months. Now I know what I want to write about, but I don’t know what I want to say, so I’m letting my pen and the excellent books I’ve read lately do the talking. They’re:

Embracing the Warrior, An Essential Guide for Women by Dr Karen Coates and Vincent Perry;

Beat Cancer, The 10-step plan to help you overcome and prevent cancer (also subtitled How to Regain Control of Your Health and Your Llife) written by leading cancer experts, Prof. Mustafa Djamgoz and Prof. Jane Plant; and

Feminine Lost, Why Most Women are Male by Jennifer Granger, an intuitive transformational coach and author.

All of the books are about getting to know – with different approaches – what makes us well, whole and fulfilled human beings.

I met Karen Coates at Gwingana Lifestyle Retreat earlier this year at a Women’s Discovery programme, which I did with my cousin, who has also had breast cancer. I was inspired by Karen and concerned by what she had to say about how the amount of stress we experience daily and weekly over an extended period, without relief or release, can build the levels of cortisol and adrenalin to a point where we can become sick. What we eat each day and the products we use on our bodies, our clothes and in our homes can also affect our health.

embracingthewarrior1Embracing the Warrior gives a simple and exact instruction on managing the health challenges of the modern world… without resorting to pharmaceutical drugs. Part of the book concentrates on some of the major health issues confronting people today: dealing with stress, managing and preventing osteoporosis, understanding depression and lowering cholesterol. The chapter, Pharmaceutical Dominoes – The Compounding Effect of Drugs, is particularly enlightening. Karen also talks about ‘gut’ health and how important this is to remaining well.

Beat CancerBeat Cancer provides guidance to help you beat cancer. The authors cutting-edge plan covers every aspect, including:

  • The latest essential information about cancer – what it is, what causes it and how to prevent it
  • A thorough review of all the conventional complementary treatments available
  • The lifestyle changes you can make to defend your body.

My best friend, who was a little concerned when I took an integrated approach to my health, bought me the book after hearing Jane Plant interviewed. Jane has lived nearly half her adult life with breast cancer. She now is convinced that an approach that integrates the best of conventional medicine with a good diet and lifestyle is essential to beating cancer. (p11-12)

I believe my friend now understands the approach I have taken to my health. She has introduced some dietary changes into her own life after a period of feeling unwell. These have significantly improved her vitality and feeling of wellbeing.

Feminine LostFeminine Lost explores the premise that all human beings are constructed of two energies, one masculine and one feminine. With the rise of the feminist movement, she says many women have migrated to their masculine side, some to the extent of losing access to their feminine side altogether. Could this be contributing to the increase in breast cancer, I ask?

It’s now 2 years since I concluded chemotherapy treatment. I feel as though the ‘chemo brain’ has finally left and I am fully restored to my former passionate fit self, however with a great deal more wisdom, love and care for myself and others.

I’m ready to return to work and my life as an entrepreneur.

Healthy CookingI’ve teamed with Naturopathic Nutritionist and Chef, Emma Ellice-Flint, to start a new business, The Vital You, as a result of my health travels. It’s designed to relax and revitalize with a weekend of workshops where participants learn how to source, cook and enjoy easy, fresh, delicious, healthy, nourishing food. They’ll also experience some de-stressing techniques with mindfulness, meditation and yoga. We’ll be providing a practical ‘recipe for good health’.

The experiential workshops are designed to provide you with vitality every day and a lifelong, healthy mind and body. If you’d like to find out more about our programme and the November weekend visit www.thevitalyou.com.au.

Leaving the Waiting Room

patienceI’ve realised over the past month that I’ve been spending a lot of my time waiting. Waiting for what? Waiting to be told I was well. Waiting for my lymphoedema to heal. Waiting to get the inspiration to start a new business. Waiting for my husband to agree with my aspirations, whatever they may be. Waiting to lose weight.

I wasn’t aware of it until I felt a kick start happen a month ago. What caused it?

I went to have my annual mammogram and ultrasound at The Mater at 7.00am on a Monday morning. There were few cars on the road, only one person in the waiting room and the radiology staff still not there when I arrived. I was feeling anxious, particularly after having to walk by the ward where I recovered from surgery and seeing Chemo Cottage through the Waiting Room window. The last two years came flashing back.

I felt great in myself – fit and well. I still had the odd twinge occurring in my breast, side, shoulder and arm. There was a small doubt. “Would I be clear?” I was called, changed down and went straight in for the mammogram. It was quick and painless. “I’ll just check there’s nothing more”, said the radiographer. I then stood topless, waiting to hear whether I was clear to go on for the ultrasound. “Yes!” “Hooray”, I quietly cheered.

I then put on a gown and waited in a cubicle for the sonographer to be ready. The early hour meant it was a short wait. Next thing I was having warm gel spread on my chest and the ultrasound gun run over my breast and up under my arm pit. “It all looks good”, I heard. “I’ll just check with the Doctor”. I had a contemplative five minutes on the bed whilst I cleaned up and waited for the news. “All clear, you can get dressed and go.” I walked out elated, feeling proud.

IMG_1225I drove home, met up with my husband and then hit the road with him to drive to Mooloolaba, towing our sports boat behind ‘the ute’. We were competing in the National Sports Boats Regatta. How my ability has shifted in the last 18 months – from where I found it difficult to get my balance on the boat post chemo to being an integral part of the crew handling any role I needed to take on during the regatta. It’s the third regatta I’ve competed in in the last 12 months.

I returned to meet with my surgeon. It was the two-year check up. “You’ve heard the good news”, he said. “Any concerns?” “Just my lymphoedema.” He offered the suggestion of considering a lymph node transplant. It’s not that bad and I’m aiming for it to clear naturally with the daytime compression sleeve and night-time Caresia sleeve. So I declined to explore this option. “See you in 12 months.” We shared holiday stories and I left.

The good news didn’t stop there. My integrated doctor had recommended I have another CTC (circulating tumour cell) test mid year. When I went to get the results from him, the reading was down a whole 100 points from 250 to 150. We were both so thrilled he shook my hand. He offered to step up the supplement treatment with some Chinese herbs. I declined, “I want to keep doing what I’m doing. I believe it’s working”. He took me off the liver healing supplements and kept me on the bone density and hormone related supplements. I felt I’d had another win. “Two years down, three to go,” he said – a salient reminder that I can’t be complaisant.

I bounced out of the surgery and greeted my husband with a smile from ear to ear.

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Pilates Reformer

I resolved to keep up my regime of daily meditation, a brisk morning walk interspersed with yoga and pilates, daily juicing, organic food, no dairy, home cooking, healthy eating and plenty of sleep.

Amongst the rounds of appointments I still need to have, I had a six-week check up with my lymphoedema physiotherapist. “What’s the LDX (fluid) reading?” “11.4”, she said, “you’re down 3 points.” A miracle! The sleeves and weekly lymphatic drainage massage were working.

My prescription of PATIENCE during chemo looks like it’s paying off. I could feel the weight of being constantly concerned about my health and healing lifting. I felt I could ‘Leave the Waiting Room’ and start living my life more fully. I felt inspired to start working and contributing to others.

So that’s what I’ve been doing for the past few weeks. I’ve been working on a Wellness Project, facilitating workshops which teach people how to eat and live well. The first one will be in November this year.

All this good news gave me the impetus to talk with my husband about some other business ideas we have. We’ve started to progress them. I’m really excited about my life and am relieved that I’ve STOPPED WAITING!

 

Feeling Whole Again

IMG_1094Earlier this year I got a strong sensation that I needed/wanted to go and spend two weeks hanging out with my sister who is two years younger than I am. She has lived in Europe for 36 years and now splits her time between bustling, vibrant London and relaxing, charming Sicily. I missed her from the day she left Australia and I never really got over her not being nearby. We had shared a bedroom from when she was born until we both left home at the ages of 22 and 20. I got married and she went overseas to model.

I had a yearning, which wouldn’t go away, to have some sister time doing the things we love to do together – chatting, gallery hopping, indulging in great fresh food, hanging out, bike riding and doing a touch of shopping. And that’s exactly what we did for two whole weeks.

IMG_1061London was warm, sunny and inviting. We saw a fantastic exhibition, Classic Italian Fashion 1950-2014, at the Victoria and Albert Museum. From 1980-89 my sister had modeled on the Fashion Runways in Milan and Rome for most of the designers exhibited. How wonderful it was to hear her stories and walk down memory lane with her.

It was an emotional challenge undertaking the trip. In my heart I knew it was something I needed to do. Perhaps it was part of me getting my old life back, reconnecting with the things I love to do and had denied myself for some years with the busy life and responsibilities I had taken on. My husband wasn’t keen for me to go and didn’t understand my need. So I think part of me was in a state of denial, so much so that I didn’t read my itinerary or ticket properly and missed my flight out of Australia – a major inconvenience as all flights from Sydney to Hong Kong were full and I didn’t know when I was going to get on a flight. I decided to wait at the airport in the hope that someone wouldn’t turn up, like I hadn’t, and I would get on the next flight and I did. That wasn’t the end of it. When I missed my first flight, the airline (as they all do) cancelled all of my flights to and from Europe. I had to set about reinstating them, not without some difficulty. It was a salient lesson to me to pay more attention. Or was it a symptom of my occasionally occurring cognitive impairment, post chemotherapy? No matter what caused the mistake, it wasn’t the way I’d planned to start my special holiday.

IMG_1039I filled my creative soul in London. I visited Kew Gardens and indulged in the grandeur of it’s size and the plethora of English and exotic plants. Each morning started with a walk in beautiful Battersea Park taking in its magnificent trees laden with bright new growth. Meditation and yoga were still key. I found a fabulous yoga studio, Triyoga, which I visited every second day.

IMG_3314We walked and walked and walked through Chelsea, Knightsbridge, Kensington Gardens, Hyde Park, Oxford Street, the City, Soho and much more. Our excursions included visits to commercial galleries to see the latest artists and art lectures with artists. With each day I felt more and more enlivened by the gardens, the people, the cityscape, the art and the history. I finished my stay in London with a visit to Tate Modern and the Saatchi Gallery, two favourites. My cup was full to overflowing.

IMG_1120Then we got up at the ‘crack of dawn’ and caught a flight to Palermo. My sister and her partner had finished their dream home in Sicily last year. I was keen to see it – a restored old country house – and its beautiful garden. I wasn’t disappointed. Her partner is a landscape gardener who specialises in old trees. My sister’s impeccable taste was evident everywhere – in the finishes, the furniture and the artwork. And, of course, the garden was exquisite – full of dry climate plants of all ages. I was in heaven and felt fully nurtured from the moment I arrived. I wandered the garden each day with my camera capturing all the different plants it housed.

As my holiday progressed, I could feel my old self stirring, renewing and returning. The feeling of being whole again, in touch with my past, connecting with what was dear to me, having time out and communing with nature.

We visited beautiful old cathedrals in Mon Reale and Erice, the seaside village of Cerfalu, the boulevards of Palermo, historic paved streets of Trapani, the Florio in Marsala and cycled around the peaceful island of Favingana visiting its azure beaches and hidden ruins. All good for the soul. I felt part of my sister’s life, even though it was for a short time.

 

Now I’m back home and into a busy schedule of planning a new business, having treatments for my lymphoedema, sailing, walking and tending my own garden. How easy it all is and feels. I really do feel whole again.

To top it all off, I had my two-year breast screen – mammogram and ultrasound – and check up with my breast surgeon this week and I’m all clear – cancer free. Being true to myself, following my intuition and living my dreams is paying off. How blessed I am.

Living with Lymphoedema

Life has been very full this last year. Lots of travel! With this has came some demands on my body and costs. All has been going well in my recovery except for now I have Lymphoedema.

Southern African Desert

Southern African Desert

When I returned from Southern Africa last October my left arm was tight and I had pain in my chest wall. I went to have a check up with Carol, my lymphatic physiotherapist. The lymph fluid was up to 18 points.

After some soul searching and reading, I recalled that at the end of our trip I had a small scratch on my upper arm. This took a long time to heal. I probably had an infection without my knowing it. The result? Lymphoedema. “I’m going to get you a new tailored compression sleeve”, Carol said. This had to come from Germany.

The possibility of Lymphoedema was not spoken about when I got breast cancer. In fact, none of the possible after affects of treatment were discussed with me.

imageI must have gone onto a register after my first surgery. A few days later a package arrived in the mail from the Breast Cancer Network Australia. It included several booklets with details on all aspects of breast cancer and what could happen afterwards. My Journey Kit is a fantastic resource and one worth requesting if it’s not sent to you. Visit bcna.org.au.

My experience of reading the information was like sifting. There was so much there. What do I need to know now? Later? I concentrated on the information I needed to know right then, not fully understanding the magnitude of the journey I was about to go on and the ramifications of the immediate decisions and action I would take.

I didn’t want to have the axiliar nodes removed and got a second opinion. “No”, I was told, “all the nodes will have to come out”. I have subsequently asked my surgeon, “could you have done a test to check whether there was cancer in these nodes?” He said ‘no’. I understand some surgeons use a dye to test for this and if there is no cancer, don’t remove them.

I couldn’t glean from the booklets what living with Lymphoedema would be like. I think I am reasonably lucky that I have mild Lymphodema.

Summer in Sydney arrived soon after my new garment did. It’s not exactly the fashion accessory I was planning to wear with my beautiful dresses and summer clothes. As the summer heat increased, so did my Lymphoedema. Three months of wearing the sleeve for eight hours a day increased to all waking hours for six months, three episodes of bandaging, the addition of a glove to stem hand swelling and weekly lymphatic massage (only a fraction of which is claimable with a private health fund) ensued. My fluid rose to 23.5 points. Not a laughing matter. All this care and the Lymphoedema was getting worse.

Then GOOD NEWS! Last week I got completely fed up with it. My husband said, when I was getting dressed, “you’ve got a bit of a roll over those jeans”. A completely harmless, true observation. More like ‘a red rag to a bull’ for me. I lost it. I wasn’t really upset with my husband, I was upset with myself.

I’d been fractious for the previous few days and couldn’t work out why. Was it that I was out of my routine after travelling again? Or that I hadn’t made the time to work on my new business idea? As I ‘flew off the handle’ and started to vent about my arm, the fluid being up in my body and my digestive system not working well, having put on weight, I let go of much pent up emotion. My calm self disappeared and I verbally attacked myself.

My husband realised mentioning my roll was not a good idea. His demeanour changed from one of mocking fun, to love and compassion. “I love you. You’re gorgeous. You’re perfect the way you are”, he said. Phew! At least someone was looking at me positively in that moment.

A few days later I noticed there was less fluid in my wrist and less pressure in my arm. When Carol measured me on Tuesday, my fluid had gone down 7 points. The best result since my October visit.

Caresia Sleeve

Caresia Sleeve

What caused this? The cooler autumn weather? My emotional outburst at my body? Washing my sleeve and glove every second day? (I hadn’t realised this would make the sleeve more effective.) Getting back into a care routine with massage. The big change we had made here was concentrating on massaging my breast to release the fluid there. We’ve since added wearing a Caresia (soft quilted) sleeve to bed each night.

Breaking up the lymphoedema

Breaking up the lymphoedema

Whatever it is, I am thrilled the fluid is starting to diminish and I may have the prospect of discarding my sleeve, eventually. I am trusting the way fluid is breaking up at night will make the difference.

Whilst inconvenient, unattractive and sometimes painful, I am fortunate that I am not stopped from doing any of the activities I love – gardening, walking, yoga, Pilates, skiing. In fact I think it is better when I exercise each day. Certainly life is better.

 

 

 

 

Dealing with Fear

DoYouFearCancer7 People talk a lot about fearing cancer. They seem to be intimately connected.

False-evidence-appearing-realWhen I was first diagnosed with breast cancer, I didn’t feel much fear. I just knew I needed to take action. From the first diagnosis until now, I have generally found my fear comes from those around me. When it visits, I have to take strong steps to keep myself “on the wagon” and fearless so to speak.

The first time I felt momentary fear was when I was having dye injected into me to locate my sentinel lymph node prior to having a lumpectomy and sentinel node removal. The radiologist was talking to me about breast cancer and likely progressions. She said you may find you need to have your ovaries removed. Momentarily I freaked out. I’d gone from being in for a lumpectomy to possibly having my ovaries out. I noticed what was happening and stopped my brain going in all directions and let go her comment, trusting my doctor had me in for a lumpectomy only.

The next occasion was the middle of the night, after my lumpectomy and the woman in the bed beside me was a few hours ahead of me in coming out of her anaesthesia cloud. She was on for a chat about all the details of her cancer, surgery and prior chemotherapy. I had to ask her to stop talking to me. I was starting to get very anxious taking on her fear. I hoped I wasn’t going to go on her journey.

fear-is-in-your-head1I came out of my first surgery feeling confident, until I went to see my surgeon. He told me I had a grade 2 cancer and would require all my left axillary lymph nodes removed, six weeks of chemotherapy, 6 weeks of radiotherapy and 5 years of hormone therapy. That’s when my fear did kick in. I thought I was losing myself, my power and my say over my life. I had become a number, a statistic. That generated a great deal of fear until I started reading, seeking more information and advice.

As I’ve said in a previous blog, the chemotherapy generated the most fear in me. As I started to lose myself, I got very scared. I thought I was dying. I sought help on a number of fronts – acupuncture, meditation, yoga, counselling, shiatsu – to assist me to deal with my fear. Meditation empowered me most and still does.

Once I had finished chemotherapy, I occasionally had friends ask if a friend, who had recently been diagnosed, could call me. Initially I said yes. These calls took me back through my whole experience, bringing up my fear. I had to decline such requests. Any mention of someone with breast cancer tends to kick start fear. Instead of talking I started this blog and have been referring people to it ever since. I hope it is making a difference.

feel-the-fearFear is never far away. Over the past 6 months I have been dealing with mild phantom breast pain and lymphoedema. It is hard not to think the worst when the pain starts. Instead of worrying, I take action and see my lymphoedema physiotherapist and lymphatic drainage massage therapist. Visiting them is always reassuring and sets my mind at rest again. Their treatments are helping my condition. As is my morning meditation. Just 10 minutes seems to set me in a great and peaceful frame of mind for the day.

A couple of weeks ago, I was at a birthday dinner and a beautiful young woman started to talk to me about her recent breast cancer experience, her treatment and life on hormone therapy. I could feel her fear. Whilst I talked a little about integrated therapies I have used, the supplements I am on and how effective they have been, I felt her fear ‘invading’ me. I know that sounds dramatic. It was palpable and difficult not to absorb. I suggested she read my blog and if she found it interesting or of benefit, then perhaps we could speak further.

o-BECOMING-FEARLESS-facebookIt took me two weeks after this conversation to stabilise myself and feel fearless again. I realised, no matter how courageous I am, fear is never far away. It’s important to acknowledge it and not let it take me over. Fear is an accomplice of cancer. I believe keeping fear at bay will assist me to stay cancer free.

The Power of Letting Go

IMG_0864Tuesday two weeks ago I was enjoying glorious spring skiing in fabulous Park City and Deer Valley, Utah. I was feeling fit, strong, happy and well. Life and my health were back to normal. Things couldn’t have been better.

Then I received an email from my sister in Australia saying my mother, who had a terminal lung condition (Chronic Obstructive Airway Disease) had contracted a chest infection. She’d been put on antibiotics and they were waiting to see how she would respond. Judging by how previous episodes of this nature had gone and her enormous resilience, my husband and I thought there was no need to take any urgent action. It was a wait and see situation.

Two days later another email arrived, the infection had become pneumonia and Mum was expected to live another week. The big question was, ‘did we need to rush home or would she live the full week predicted?’ I had to choose between going home immediately and staying an extra couple of days. It was a difficult decision because we’d had calls of this nature previously and Mum had pulled through.

I changed our return travel to arrive back in Australia well within the time frame suggested by the doctor. Whilst doctors can speak to us from the perspective of statistics, they cannot speak for us as individuals, as we see time and again. Someone is told “You have six weeks to live” and he lives 12 months. “You have 3-6 months to live” and she lives 18 months. The moment of death is the choice of the individual.

It was my mother’s 81st birthday on March 14. I’d sent her a birthday card before I left and was planning to buy her that black cardigan she wanted when I was in Park City. The realisation that I wouldn’t be getting it for her saddened me greatly.

My family organised a champagne lunch for her birthday and I arranged to call in for the party. Thank goodness for mobile phones. My husband, who is a prankster with heart, came up with the idea of doing a little performance for her, over the phone. Given the time difference, we were standing on a street corner in Park City with cold hands juggling the phone and my husband started. “Hellooo… Dorothy or can I call you Dottie (her least favourite name)? Dottie this is Pastor Ray from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in Park City Utah. We’ve heard it’s your birthday and I’ve gathered together a small group of choristers to sing you happy birthday!” We then chorused happy birthday to her. She loved every minute of it and announced he was her ex-son-in-law. She laughed. We laughed. It was the best birthday present we could have given an ‘old performer’ who was holding court with her family.

Thirty-six hours later, on the day of our departure, I got a text to say the end was nigh. I wanted to be free with the choice I’d made not to leave earlier and to give my mother the farewell I would’ve given her had I been there. I called the hospital. They took the phone to her and I told her I was well and in the best shape I’d been in for many years. The skiing holiday had done wonders for me. I also told her I would follow her legacy and be with my husband to the end. Two things that were important to her. Finally, I said, “if you need to go before I get home, you are free to go.” I was at peace with our relationship. I had said everything I’d wished and needed to say. The nurse said she smiled and shed a tear.

I am clear I was with her in spirit for the duration of our holiday and to the end.

Peace StonesWhen we were in transit at LA airport, I thought, “I have to contact my family, NOW.” I called my brother. He said, “the end is near.” I asked him to hold my mother’s hand for me. He did and told her he was holding it for me. Then I said, “Mum I acknowledge you for your courage, love and commitment. You will always be in my heart.” As my husband spoke to her and my family laughed, she passed away.

She had survived breast cancer with great courage and determination 35 years earlier. She was an outstanding role model and inspiration for me and many other women whose path she crossed.

I am grateful for my life, the loving family into which I was born and for my extraordinary mother.